Coroner says ‘failures’ by colleagues in death of police officer shot by man in custody

Sergeant Matt Ratana Pic: Metropolitan Police

A Croydon police officer shot in his own station by a man in custody died after officers’ “failure” to properly search the suspect, a coroner found at inquest.

Sergeant Matt Ratana, 54, who had worked as a Metropolitan Police officer for almost 30 years, was “unlawfully killed” by Louis de Zoysa, 26, who had been arrested for possession of cannabis and ammunition, senior coroner Sarah Ormond-Walshe recorded.

Concluding the inquest on Monday, the coroner said: “There was a failure to carry out a safe, thorough and systematic search.”

Officers had searched de Zoysa after his arrest in September 2020, but failed to find the antique revolver he then used to murder Ratana at Croydon’s Windmill Road custody centre.

After the inquest, Ratana’s partner, Su Bushby, slammed the officers’ “shoddy and inadequate search”.  “If it wasn’t for a catalogue of serious failings, and if people had done their job properly, Matt would still be alive today.”

Sgt Ratana’s partner Su Bushby reading statement outside Croydon Town Hall after the inquest Pic: Jamie Lashmar/ PA Wire

The inquest heard that Police Constable Richard Davey carried out the search with assistance from Police Constable Samantha Still. They found seven live rounds of ammunition in de Zoysa’s pocket, but failed to find the gun hidden in an underarm holster.

At trial, the prosecution said the weapon was “probably concealed under one of his armpits”. Davey admitted he “abandoned his training” and should have found the weapon.

Louis de Zoysa detained in the custody van Pic: PA Wire

Footage from the custody van showed de Zoysa, who has autism, wriggling around to reposition the firearm. Inside the custody center, he moved his handcuffed arms from behind his back to open fire at Ratana.

The first bullet hit Ratana in the chest and a second struck his thigh. The arresting officers wrestled de Zoysa to the ground and disarmed him.

Deputy Assistant Commissioner Stuart Cundy paid tribute to the “popular” police sergeant: “We will never forget Matt and will continue to honour his legacy, which will live on through his family, his many friends and colleagues in the Met, in his rugby foundation and beyond.”

Louis de Zoysa pointing the revovler at Sgt Matt Ratana Pic: Metropolitan Police

The circumstances of the murder were independently investigated by both the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

The IOPC found that there was no case for disciplinary action nor criminal proceedings against either of the arresting officers. However, it did identify some learning points for the officers around transporting detainees and body searches.

The HSE report said the Met had made “satisfactory” updates to its safety management system following the incident to better mitigate the daily risks officers face.

In the wake of Ratana’s death, the police distributed 4,300 detector wands to officers and fitted one south London custody center with an airport-style body scanner. In a new rule, custody sergeants must now wear protective vests when dealing with detainees in holding areas.

DAC Cundy said: “Whilst we can never eliminate risk entirely, the Met is committed to do all it can to keep officers and the public safe.”

Arresting officers detaining de Zoysa after he fired at Ratana Pic: Metropolitan Police

The inquest followed a trial in June this year in which de Zoysa was found guilty of Ratana’s murder and sentenced to a whole-life prison term. De Zoysa’s defence argued in the trial that he was suffering an “autistic meltdown” after being arrested for drugs and ammunition offences.

Whilst detained on the floor, de Zoysa fired three more shots. One of these hit an artery in his own neck and caused brain damage. He now uses a wheelchair and uses a whiteboard to communicate.

Ratana’s funeral was held in November 2020. Former All Blacks captain Zinzan Brooke led a Haka outside the chapel in a tribute to the New-Zealand born police officer of Maori descent who had been well known as a rugby player and coach. He had been close to retirement at the time of his death.

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